Thursday, March 30, 2006

Iraq - A House Divided Against Itself

The Associated Press is reporting:

'The United States has been pushing Iraq to speed up the formation of a unity government, seen as the best option to subdue the violence gripping several Iraqi cities. But the talks are fragile, in a country with deep sectarian differences between Shiites and Sunnis and daily violent death tolls in the dozens.'

Recent heavy-handed meddling by the Bush administration into Iraq politics has done nothing to improve the situation but has renewed charges that the United States is trying to subvert Iraqi sovereignty. Such clumsy handling of the political situation is damaging the efforts of the Iraqi people to put their country on a path to democracy, and destroying what little progress the Bush Administration has been able to claim.

Negotiations over the formation of the Iraqi government have been ongoing since the election results were certified in early January, and the Iraqis have been "unable to agree on a new, permanent government for the country for more than five weeks."

The March 16 meeting of the Iraqi parliament set in motion what will ultimately be a long process of choosing a ruling government. Currently, talks are stalled and compromise "hinges on" whether Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the current prime minister, should receive a second term. Jaafari has the "backing of firebrand, anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr," and "as long as the other major blocs oppose Mr. Jaafari, the process is at a standstill."

In an effort to jumpstart the negotiations, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told Shiite officials that President Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Jaafari Iraq's next prime minister. Khalilzad's move "is the first time the Americans have directly expressed a preference in the furious debate over the country's top job," and "it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders."

The White House confirmed that Khalilzad met with a Shiite official, but did not deny that it expressed disapproval of Jaafari. "The U.S. ambassador's position on al-Jaafari's nomination is negative," one Iraqi leader with close ties to Jaafari said. "They want him (the prime minister) to be under their control." Also, the U.S. sent a message to Iraq's senior religious cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, "strongly implying" that Jaafari should withdraw his nomination. "[B]y contacting the revered Shiite Muslim leader, the administration risks further angering Iraqi leaders, who already complain that the United States is interfering too much with the process."
While Bush has promised to "help the Iraqis establish a democracy," the U.S. has a history of unsuccessfully butting into local Iraqi politics (e.g. the failed candidacy of Ahmed Chalabi). This latest "sign of White House impatience over the deadlocked talks to form a new government" could risk making the important work of democracy illegitimate in the Iraqi people's eyes.

The ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq have led to delays in the political process. As the weeks go by, Iraqi leaders have "offered a myriad of reasons for the delay in forming a government, and their reasoning often reflected their religious or ethnic loyalties."

Outside of the political arena, sectarian violence continues to escalate around Iraq. The U.N. International Organization for Migration recently reported that since the February 22 bombing of Samarra's Golden Mosque, "sectarian violence has displaced more than 25,000 Iraqis."
Iraq continues to be a country where "Shiite majority and Sunni Arab and ethnic Kurdish minorities have been competing for a share of power and turf since the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein three years ago."

Yet the administration continues to describe the situation in unrealistic terms. Secretary Rice described current negotiations as an "extraordinary scene with Iraqi Sunni and Shia and Kurds all working together toward a unity government."

Trying to push this Bush Administration line was National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley last weekend who said,"Every time the Iraqi people have had a chance to vote, they have voted for unity." This really is not the case though, what has happened with each election is that Iraqis have voted based on their ethnic and religious identities, not unity.

In fact, based on election results only nine percent of Iraqis supported "national unity" by voting for such candidates in the December election.

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